Dr. Ligon Duncan’s Seminar on the Marrow Controversy

In today’s theological climate, antinomianism and the Sonship theology are rife within Reformed circles. The Marrow Controversy therefore has much to teach us about the relationship of grace and law.

Dr. Duncan started by sketching a short history of the Marrow Controversy, emphasizing Boston’s role in recommending the Marrow of Modern Divinity. The book, of course, caused waves in the Scottish Presbyterian church. There had been a professor at Glasgow who had showed affinity for Socinianism and Arminianism. This man was tried by the church and basically given a slap on the wrist. So those heterodox doctrines would find a refuge in the Scottish Presbyterian Church, but the evangelical Calvinism was not found congenial. The Auchterarter Presbytery had a question that they asked candidates about the relationship of coming to Christ and forsaking sin. Understood properly, the question was designed to make clear that a person does not forsake sin in order to come to Christ, but rather comes to Christ in order for sin’s hold on the person to be broken. The General Assembly rebuked the Auchterarter Presbytery for asking the question this way. What would later be called “moderatism” had its beginnings in the General Assembly. Enlightenment thinking took over, to the point where, as one writer puts it, a typical “moderatism” sermon was like a winter day: cold, clear, and brief. The Marrow, on the other hand, was condemned by the General Assembly. The defenders of the Marrow, such as Thomas Boston, and the Erskine brothers appealed the decision, which was rejected. This almost guaranteed that everyone in Scotland would purchase a copy of the book! There’s Scottish contrariness for you.

There are three interpretations of the Marrow controversy. Some argue that it was an internecine dispute of two sides that both held to the Westminster Standards. Those who condemned the Marrow quoted the Westminster standards against the Marrow men, which creates a certain plausibility for this view. This view is wrong in Duncan’s mind, though.

The second view says that the Marrow men represented a revolt against classical Calvinism (this is held by J.B. Torrance). In other words, the Marrow men were trying to liberate the Scottish church from the Westminster Standards. The Marrow men, however, vowed ex animo in strict subscription to the Westminster Standards.

The third view is that the Marrow men were the Westminster theology men. This is the proper view.

Dr. Duncan then shared many of the most important quotations from both Boston and Fisher.

Some Thoughts on Doug Phillips

The internet is talking quite avidly about Doug Phillips’s letter that he posted on Vision Forum’s website, and the follow-up here. The reactions have varied from “I told you so” to godly grief and prayer. It is certainly inappropriate for those opposed to Doug Phillips’s ideas to gloat in his downfall, and to connect his downfall with his ideas in a direct line. I wonder if some of the talk is not lurid fascination with the scandalous. I am reminded of one of the Miss Marple videos “Murder at the Vicarage,” where the Vicar’s wife talked about the get-together that the ladies had every day, and called it “tea and scandal.”

A better tack has been advocated by some, and I think it is a better way to analyze the situation. Whenever a pastor preaches the Word of God on a particular sin, Satan will try mightily to undermine the pastor precisely in that area. This doesn’t happen only to people like Doug Phillips. Did you preach against greed on Sunday? Then beware of Satan’s temptations to greed throughout the week, and pray, pray, and pray some more. Did you preach against pornography? Then again, beware of Satan’s temptations in that area either in the immediate or even distant future, and pray, pray, and pray some more. The fact is, no matter what sin the pastor preaches against, Satan will love to tempt the pastor with that particular sin, because he knows he can cause more damage to the church that way.

Most pastors who have any experience whatsoever will be well aware of the fact that they are under almost constant assault from Satan’s temptations. He will try to make the pastor feel so hypocritical that the pastor will lose his preaching authority, and seek to water down the message so that he is no longer a hypocrite, or the pastor will preach only about one topic, trying to correct himself in that area, when he is in fact almost under the waves from that very temptation.

Note to those who listen to preachers: if that preacher has a hobby-horse, beware that something might be amiss in that particular area. The Word of God searches every area of life, not just one.

However, if the pastor is aware of this problem, he may try to over-correct by taking the teeth out of the practical application sections. How does a pastor avoid this? First of all, he does have to preach to himself first. Then, he must repent of his own sin and folly in that particular area. He must continually throw himself on the mercy of Christ. He must be the chief repenter. But then he must also believe that the blood of Christ really does cleanse him of that sin. Satan loves to lie to pastors with this simple, but effective lie: “Your sins, being that of the leader of the congregation, are much harder to forgive than the congregant’s sins.” Do not confuse consequences of sin with the guilt of sin. A pastor’s sins may have more grave consequences, but they are not more difficult for Christ’s blood to cleanse, since Christ’s blood has infinite power to cleanse.

It has been noted that Doug Phillips’s sin happened in the very area (marriage and family) that he preached most vociferously and counter-culturally. This is true. But given Satan’s tactics as noted above, it should not surprise us when Satan tries to get pastors to sin in just such areas.

In the following comment, I am making no judgment on what is in Doug Phillips’s heart. I am only using my imagination: it may not be true of his situation in any way. It is only a possibility. When a pastor preaches heavily on particular subjects, there is always the possibility that he can start to view the doctrines he has preached as safeguards for his own morality. He believes that extra-marital affairs are sin; therefore he won’t be tempted in that area, or if he is, he won’t fall. Again, given Satan’s tactics, pastors should be expecting the very opposite: the more strongly we believe and preach something, the more we should expect Satan to try to get us to fall precisely in that area. Doug Phillips may already know this. I don’t know, I’m just mentioning it, because I think it is important.

Our only true safeguard is the Triune God’s mercy and grace towards us, especially the Holy Spirit indwelling us and feeding us with Christ Himself. That is an empowering grace that enables us to put to death all (not just some) works of the flesh, and to put on Christ. This is what the Puritans called “mortification and vivification.” It is the putting off and the putting on. Another term to describe it is “sanctification.” We get this grace through the means of grace: Word, sacrament, and prayer.

As to Doug Phillips’s own ideas, I think he has some valuable things to say. There are certain areas where I think he may take some things to an extreme. But there is no doubt that he has pegged some serious wrong things about out culture and its vision of marriage. I say that because I have no joy whatsoever in what has happened to him or Vision Forum. I think it is tragic.

To those who would gloat over his downfall, just remember this: God is a God of resurrection. You may gloat over your fallen foe, but God may raise him up, Phoenix-like, and use him for His glory. I earnestly hope and pray that Doug Phillips will use this time to examine his ideas and doctrine once again in the light of Scripture, that he will listen to his critics, avoid completely a self-defensive attitude, and bring every thought captive to Jesus Christ and to His Word. May we do the same.

Whatever Happened to the Church

Reed DePace

Question I’d ask any to comment upon: is God in the process of judging the Church in America? Scripture to contemplate: Jh 6:28; Mt 5:13; 1Ti 3:4-5; Eph 5:13; 2Ti3:1-5; Jh 15:6

The background to my question comes from this FB status I posted:

Whatever Happened … To the Church?

That is what your grandchildren may ask one day. If things keep going the way they are, God is going to remove the Church from this land. America may become a post-post-Christian nation with barely a remembrance of Christ.

What ever happened to a man not being qualified to shepherd God’s family if he cannot shepherd his own family (1Ti 3:4-5)? Preachers’ Daughters (check out the family bios.)

We are awash in pastors who promote godliness but deny the only One who is its power (2Ti 3:5). Christianity IS NOT about us keeping the rules, and pastors who teach that are doing the same thing the ones Jesus condemned did.

(Don’t read between the lines. Holiness is essential. We don’t get it in any manner that is based on our effort. Our problem with sin is worse than we imagine. We neither believe nor live in what Jesus said is necessary for true holiness. Jh 6:28)

The shame of the Church continues to be paraded and laughed at by the unbelieving culture. What in the world are we thinking supporting that by parading our own sinfulness – and celebrating it – before those who mock Jesus Christ? (Eph 5:12; 1Pe 4:3)

When salt is worthless, what do you do with it? According to Jesus, you throw it into the mud where at least it can add some traction for the feet of those who walk on it. (Mt 5:13) The Church is washing away her saltiness in shallow love for God and heated love for the world. Our children are leaving us in the mud and jumping into the manure-pile of the debauchery of this world.

God have mercy, Christ have mercy, Holy Spirit have mercy. If He doesn’t our grandchildren will be wondering whatever happened to the Church in America.

Reed DePace

Clement of Rome’s Epistle to the Corinthians

Our church just purchased the Schaff-edited Early Church Fathers. I have immediately begun to read it. I would like to share my thoughts on what I read. I will do a bit of poking around as well (since this edition is quite old) to see what more modern scholarship has to say on each of these works, though this will by no means be exhaustive. I will offer what is basically a short introduction, a road map through each work, or part of a work.

We start with Clement of Rome’s Epistle to the Corinthians. It is sometimes called the first epistle, but the so-called second epistle is almost certainly spurious. No reasonable doubts have been raised as to the genuineness of this letter. It is generally dated to the late first century, around 96 AD. Clement of Rome is supposed by the Roman Catholic Church to be the fourth pope. However, as we shall see, his doctrine is hardly what later Romanist theologians would approve, especially on the doctrine of justification.

If you would like to read it online, you can go here, for the Schaff edition I am reading, or you can go here, for Lightfoot’s commentary. The Greek original is available here, in the Patrologia series, or, for a more elegant and streamlined version (with a gorgeous font!), here.

The occasion of this letter was very similar to what prompted Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: division in the church (see especially chapter 3 of our document). In this case, it seems that the congregation was rising up against their leaders. Envy, strife and disorder were marring what had before been a very godly situation (compare chapter 3 with chapters 1 and 2). What follows is an attempt to set forth every possible motive for humility and against division either from the example of those who have gone before, or from Christ Himself, or even from fanciful tales used as an illustration (confer the phoenix in chapter 25). This letter is Scripture-saturated. Indeed, it is remarkable how much Scripture Clement manages to cram into a mere 17 pages!

A brief outline is as follows: I. Praise of the Corinthians pre-strife (1-2); II. The destructiveness of strife (3-6); III. Call to repentance (7-12); IV. Call to humility (13-24); V. Encouragement from resurrection (25-26); VI. General encouragement to holiness (27-30); VII. How we obtain blessing (31-38); VIII. No self-conceit (39); IX. Order in the church (40-44); X. The sin of the Corinthians (45-47); XI. Love (48-55); XII. Final exhortation to submission (56-59).

I want to highlight a few things. Firstly, I want to highlight chapter 32’s statement on justification by faith alone. In the context, Clement is contrasting the holiness of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (chapter 31) with the “greatness of the gifts which were given by him” (chapter 32). A footnote indicates that the pronoun “him” is of doubtful reference. The note prefers the understanding “the gifts which were given to Jacob by Him,” i.e., God. This is also Lightfoot’s understanding, even though he acknowledges the awkwardness of the transition to the next sentence’s “from him,” obviously referring to Jacob. Regardless of the meaning of these two sentences, the contrast between works and grace is clear in the middle of chapter 32: “All these, therefore, were highly honoured, and made great, not for their own sake, or for their own works, or for the righteousness which they wrought, but through the operation of His will.” The divine passives should be obvious here. Then follows a quotation which should be quoted in full to be appreciated (emphases is mine):

And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Note the contrast between “works which we have wrought IN HOLINESS OF HEART” (presumably, this means all works done by a believer) versus “by that faith.” Whatever Clement means by faith in this passage therefore cannot include works done in holiness of heart. Faith does not equal faithfulness in justification. Note that this is in the context of justification.

Clement makes no bones about including works when it comes to sanctification, as is obvious from the immediately succeeding chapters. Someone might point to chapter 35 and claim that the promised gifts are contingent on “casting away from us all unrighteousness and iniquity.” However, it is clear in this section that Clement is thinking eschatologically. The beginning of the chapter reads “How blessed and wonderful, beloved, are the gifts of God! Life in immortality, splendour in riighteousness, truth in perfect confidence, faith in assurance, self-control in holiness! And all these fall under the cognizance of our understandings (now); what then shalle those things be which are prepared for such as wait for Him?” The Protestant will cheerfully agree that salvation in the broader sense (not just conversion) includes God enabling us to good works as a necessary result of grace (not a foundational cause). However, lest we understand Clement to be taking back what he has given, he goes on to root all blessings in the grace of Christ in chapter 36.

The effect of these chapters on the argument as a whole is to bring back the Corinthians to an understanding of why they cannot boast. Boasting brings envy and divisions. The grace of God, however, precludes the divisions which have wracked the Corinthians. So it is much to Clement’s advantage to press upon them the truth of justification by faith alone. Otherwise, the Corinthians will continue to divide.

Book Review of “Jesus + Nothing = Everything”

This book by Tullian Tchividjian (senior pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church) is a book about justification and sanctification, at least as I read it. The book had its genesis in his extremely difficult experiences during the first year or so after he became the senior minister of CRPC (I am not going to get into that here, and I would appreciate it if commenters did not discuss it either, since it is quite tangential to this book review). In that time of soul-searching, Tchividjian came to certain conclusions about what was important when it comes to the gospel, and these are his thoughts, very much influenced by his experiences. For instance, he realized that he had become very dependent on human approval (always a temptation for pastors!), and that this wasn’t what the gospel was (p. 22). The way he puts it, “I was realizing in a fresh way the now-power of the gospel-that the gospel doesn’t simply rescue us from the past and rescue us for the future; it also rescues us in the present from being enslaved to things like fear, insecurity, anger, self-reliance, bitterness, entitlement, and insignificance” (p. 23). There are pluses and minuses of making our own experiences such an integral part of such a book. On the plus side (and it is a significant plus), the descriptions of what Tchividjian went through can make the gospel real to us by showing us what it did in his life. On the other hand, one minus is that there is always the temptation to generalize our experience beyond ourselves. As I read through the book, I found the plus a real plus (though not without qualification), and the minus I found not a huge minus, but there was some of it there. My overall assessment of the book is that it has many valuable things in it (more valuable than not), as well as a few things that were not qualified enough, and one thing I found was potentially dangerous.

Now, I do have a slight quibble about the title. I understand and agree with the main point he is getting at, which is that we need to have all our idols stripped away from us, but what about the Father and the Holy Spirit? I would have felt much safer with the title “God + Nothing = Everything.” Now, I feel quite certain that Tchividjian is a firm believer in the Trinity. And I also understand that there would be a trade-off in using the term “God” instead of “Jesus,” namely, that the title I recommended could easily be understood as too broad (Jews wouldn’t have a problem with it, would they?). However, I think the Bible would be just fine with this kind of generalized statement, as long as the substance of the book would remind people of the true definition of “God” as Triune.

Tchividjian views the greatest threat to the gospel as what he calls “performancism,” what we would call “legalism.” He argues that the Bible views this as the greatest threat to the gospel (p. 45). Now, it would appear to me that a great deal of the Bible is definitely concerned about this problem. Galatians and Romans come to mind. The Bible, however, does spend a great deal of time dealing with the problem of remaining sin in the believer, too. The prophets are constantly harping on this theme, as are many places even in Romans and Galatians. So, in our laudable efforts to avoid legalism, we must stay balanced. I’m sure Tchividjian would not disagree with this assessment.

I would have to demur, however, when Tchividjian argues that antinomianism and legalism are simply two forms of the same problem: legalism (pp. 50-51). I do not believe this is true: one of them overvalues the law, and the other undervalues the law. They seem more like mirror image errors to me, not two forms of the same error. Now, I agree with his conclusion: “The truth is, disobedience happens not when we think too much of grace, but when we think too little of it” (p. 50). However, the difficulty I face in his formulation is that I believe his definition of grace might be too narrow. I was at the Gospel Reformation Network conference in February, and Rev. Harry Reeder gave us a formulation I found extremely helpful. When asked if he was saved, he typically replies, “I was saved; I am being saved, and I will be saved.” In other words, grace has a past, present, and future. The grace of God doesn’t just save us from the guilt of sin, but it also saves us from sin’s pollution. If you asked Tchividjian whether he agreed with that, he might very well say yes. My only issue is that I would not be sure of that answer from the contents of the book. Would he agree that urging people to keep the law is not necessarily legalism? By the way, I have no idea whether Rev. Harry Reeder had Tchividjian’s book in mind during the conference. All the speakers were studiously avoiding naming names as their “sparring partners.” Their target was the “contemporary grace movement,” otherwise known as the Sonship movement. Also, let it be known here that I am not slinging arrows at Tchividjian. He may very well not like being lumped in with a “movement” so-called. My criticisms of the book are centered on what I believe to be lack of clarity and qualification. I can readily believe that some of that lack of clarity might stem from the way he experienced the gospel truths of justification.

Where I net out on this book is that I would agree with him whenever he is talking about justification. He rightly and firmly rejects any kind of works and performancism when it comes to how we are declared righteous before God. Amen, and I second and third all those affirmations. Where I am not clear is what happens in sanctification. Take statements like this: “God said, ‘Tullian, in my beloved Son, you stand before me this very moment as cleansed, forgiven, purified. Therefore, I will never, ever deal with you on the basis of your cleanliness or dirtiness-your goodness or badness- but on the basis of my Son’s finished work on your behalf'” (p. 76). I ask the question: is this talking about judgment only, or is he talking about any and all kinds of dealings God has with us? If he is only talking about judgment, I would say a hearty amen to this. But would our Heavenly Father never get upset about our sin and discipline those He loves? The Bible tells us clearly that God our Father often disciplines those He loves. Oftentimes, it is because of indwelling sin, which would then in fact be God dealing with us on the basis of our badness. Now, He never deals with His children as judge on the basis of our obedience or lack thereof. Condemnation is completely out of the question for the true believer, as Paul tells us in Romans 8:1. But what about discipline? Does God only ever deal with us in a disciplinary manner without any eye whatsoever to what we have done or not done? If so, why would discipline be necessary at all, then?

Let me get to a very important point of agreement here. We don’t keep our salvation by works any more than we get our salvation by works. He says this on page 102. I heartily agree. However, that is not quite the same thing as saying that, for instance, “What licentious people need is a greater understanding of grace, not a governor on grace” (p. 100). Part of this statement is true. Licentious people definitely need a greater understanding of grace. But that understanding of grace brings with it an understanding of grace as enabling our works, and bringing us back to the standard of the law, and working holiness in us. You see, the law only condemns us before we are justified. It is not really our friend before we are justified. However, after justification, the law becomes our friend and guide (the third use of the law). Our situation with regard to the law changes completely, once there is no condemnation. The essence of the law is love, says Jesus. The law is a description of the character of God, the law-giver. So, we must love the law as Christians. We do not do the works of the law either to obtain or retain salvation in any sense. But to say we must obey the law is not legalism, in and of itself, when one has put the above qualifying statements on it. I am not convinced that Tchividjian understands this, because on page 116, he says, “We tend to think of the gospel as God’s program to make bad people good, not dead people alive.” Why this dichotomy? Are we God’s workmanship (notice the work of God there), created for good works, which He prepared beforehand for us to do? Is it good news that God will save me, and then leave me in a perpetual state of badness? Now, that isn’t entirely what Tchividjian is saying. I am just not convinced that God’s program will leave me bad, or that God’s program isn’t concerned to make bad people good. Isn’t sanctification the process of becoming more holy? Why can’t we call that part of the good news? Yes, it is fueled entirely by grace! But it results in our being made more holy. And it is certainly good news that God will change us to be more like His Son.

Tchividjian says some excellent things on the relationship of grace and law towards the end of the book, more balanced things. For instance, he says, “Finally, one of the indicators that we’re firmly on the path of Christian growth-one of the marks of a truly maturing Christian-is that we begin to love the things God loves, and to want the things God wants, and to hate the things God hates. In this regard, the law guides us as well, and it guides wisely. It tells us what God wants and who God is. Yes, the law is good” (p. 188). The illustration he gives on page 192 is, in my opinion, worth the price of admission: “A friend of mine recently put it to me this way: the law is like a set of railroad tracks. The tracks provide no power for the train but the train must stay on the tracks in order to function. The law never gives any power to do what it commands. Only the gospel has power, as it were, to move the train.” To my mind, this is more balanced and helpful. So why, then does he say (in quoting Dane Ortlund) that we should not balance gospel with exhortations to holiness? Isn’t Paul and the entire New Testament, not to mention the Old Testament, chock full of exhortations to holiness? Why should we be afraid of exhortations to holiness? All exhortations to holiness (imperatives) are firmly based on the indicatives of what Jesus came to do. But the indicatives include what God is doing now as well in sanctification. God is at work in our sanctification. It is His grace that fuels the train. But our faith is active in sanctification, whereas it was passive in justification. So, shouldn’t we preach both the firm indicatives of the gospel AND the imperatives of God’s commands? How will people know what right behavior is if we do not let them know?

One final point. I disagree partially with his assessment of sanctification on page 95: “Think of it this way: sanctification is the daily hard work of going back to the reality of our justification. it’s going back to the certainty of our objectively secured pardon in Christ and hitting the refresh button a thousand times a day.” Now, I agree heartily that justification plays a significant role in our sanctification. But this statement, unqualified as it is, would seem to collapse sanctification into justification. Sanctification involves imparted grace, renewal grace, grace of which regeneration is the start. It happens inside us. Yes, it is never to be separated from our justification, but it is distinct from it. Justification happens outside of us. Sanctification happens inside of us. Justification happens as a declaration, and is therefore instantaneous. Sanctification is a process that happens all through the Christian life. Justification is based on the finished work of Christ. Sanctification is not just based on the finished work of Christ, but also includes the Holy Spirit’s work inside of us. Of course, that is Christ formed in us. But this is the continuing work of Christ, not just the finished work of Christ. This makes the statement, “The gospel, in fact, transforms us precisely because it’s not itself a message about our internal transformation but about Christ’s external substitution” (p. 94) unclear at best, and dangerous at worst. The gospel is not just about the finished work of Christ. It is also about the continuing work of Christ through the Spirit.

I know this is a lengthy review. I value Tchividjian’s work, and he has given us many excellent things in this book. However, there are a number of things that I did not find clear. I hope that Tchividjian will see this review as iron sharpening iron. I respect him, and merely want to see him become ever clearer in his formulations.

Some Thoughts on William Evans’s Ref21 Piece

Sean Lucas has some good thoughts on his current situation in relationship to what Evans said. I thought it might be worthwhile to chime in as well. It has all the earmarks of a great conversation, irenic, yet to the point. I hope to continue in that manner.

The things I agree with Evans: 1. I agree that one of the main problems facing the church today is what Bonhoeffer calls “cheap grace.” I think there definitely is still legalism present in the church. However, the pressure of culture is far more radically licentious than legalistic. 2. This is one key reason why the law needs to be preached. If people can’t see their need of Jesus by being convicted by the law, then there is no reason to preach the Gospel. 3. I agree with his read of Romans 6, that sanctification flows from union with Christ. I would not, however, want to dismiss justification as constituting any ground of sanctification whatsoever. While our response to justification does not make up all of our motivation for sanctification, it does constitute part of it. The key here is to emphasize the inseparability of justification and sanctification. That justification constitutes part of the ground of sanctification is more due to the inseparability of the two than any kind of temporal priority (although there, too, it must still be acknowledged that justification comes before almost all of our sanctification, the only part of sanctification excepted here is definitive sanctification, which occurs simultaneously with justification). I still think there is a way to reconcile the concerns of WTS and WSC. WTS emphasizes union as being all-embracing (although some things from Horton also emphasize this), whereas WSC emphasizes the priority of justification. Can’t justification have a priority within union?

Questions I would have for Evans: 1. Maybe Tchividjian’s context is different from Evans’s. Could it be that in his congregation, legalism might be more of a threat? This might help explain why Tchividjian speaks the way he does. Different contexts make for very different problems. I would agree with Lucas here in saying that different regions might have different concerns. In the Midwest, the problem I have noticed is the “Midwestern nice.” They will say all kinds of nice things about Christians and Christianity, and they will typically be rather polite even if you go door to door. However, whether they actually need salvation is entirely another matter. They believe they are good enough. They are not very licentious as a general rule (though they are becoming more so). But neither do they believe they are perfect. They believe they are “good enough.” I wonder where that fits on the scale here between antinomianism and legalism? It is a form of antinomianism in this respect: Midwestern nice reduces the demands of the law to a keepable level (antinomianism does this on a theoretical level; legalism also reduces the demands of the law, but does so not in theory but in practice). However, they don’t believe that they can just do whatever they want. So they aren’t antinomian in that respect. 2. Is the Law-Gospel distinction only Lutheran? I believe not. See some of the original sources quoted here, here, and here. Of course, the Law-Gospel distinction only refers to the pedagogical use of the law. The Law is no enemy to the Gospel after the person becomes a believer, but rather becomes the Christian’s guide and friend. The pedagogical use of the law still operates after the believer becomes a Christian, too. However, this is not bringing condemnation, but rather God’s fatherly displeasure.c

Update: Rick Phillips has some very important thoughts here, and so does Jim Cassidy.

Joseph Caryl on Teachableness

One thing that really disturbs me about the blogosphere (and not just there, but also in the church in general) is a complete lack of teachableness. It arises out of pride, of course, pride in one’s own knowledge. We have to be right. It doesn’t actually matter who has the better argument. It only matters who can be seen to have gotten in the “knock-out” punch. Joseph Caryl has some wonderful things to say about this. I would encourage anyone to ponder these words deeply:


A gracious spirit is a teachable spirit. A gracious heart calls for teaching. Teach me, and I will hold my tongue…A teachable spirit is an excellent spirit. A man that is willing to be taught, is in a better condition than many, who are able to teach. It argues a holier temper of the heart, to be willing to be taught, than to be able to teach. And it is far worse to be unwilling to learn, than not to be knowing: Unteachableness is more dangerous than ignorance. It is sad to consider how unteachable many are; they will not be taught, or they think they have learned all, they have devoured all knowledge; they are full and need no more; Some deceived souls (and they most) carry it, as if they had a spirit of infallibility: what? teach them? they are above teaching. It is a sweet frame of spirit, when a man sees he may be out of frame. He is in a fair way to truth, who acknowledges he may be in an error. And he who will not acknowledge that he may be in an error, is certainly out of the way of truth…Nor doth he (Paul in 1 Cor. 8, LK) commend to us that proud modesty, which will not let us acknowledge, we know what we know; but his mind is, to meet with those, who think they know anything so well, that they need not, or cannot know it better, and abound so in their own sense, that they have no room to admit the sense of others…It is best to be fixed in judgment, but it is very ill to be fixed in opinion. It is to be feared that man is much divorced from right reason, who is so married to his own, that he resolves, nothing but death shall part him and his opinion…To say, “I am fixed, I am fixed, I am resolved, resolved,” when yet things are doubtful, and under difficult dispute, is actually to be in error, though possibly the thing we fix on be a truth. The apostle cautions his Ephesians, and us in them, Chap 4:14: “That they, and we, be not henceforth children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine,” and yet they are under a rebuke, who will not be moved by any wind of doctrine; that is, let never so powerful and forcible a wind of truth, breathe and blow upon them, they will not be carried or moved in judgment by it…He that will have all the talk, shall have but little profit. Joseph Caryl on Job, volume 2, pp. 528-529.

Of course, one last caveat is in order. When one reads such a quotation as this, one is apt to rejoice in the good fortune of one’s neighbor in that they need to read this. It might not even occur to us that we should be the ones humbled by this. And, if it does not occur to us to apply this to ourselves, then we are falling under the very strictures which Caryl proposes!

Guilty, Anyone?

Does anyone else feel as guilty as I did when I read this piece?

Genesis 15:6 in Paul and James

As one my commenters noticed, I forgot to come back to the issue of Genesis 15:6 as it has been used in Paul and in James. So, let’s deal with that here. First, a brief look at Genesis 15:6.

וְהֶאֱמִן בַּיהוָה וַיַּחְשְׁבֶהָ לּוֹ צְדָקָה׃

“And he believed in YHWH, and He credited it for him righteousness.”

In the original context, Abram believed God’s promises, specifically concerning those of the (S)seed. Abram wondered about a few things (particularly concerning his heir, which at the time appeared to be Eliezer of Damascus). But finally the Lord told him that it would be an heir from his own body that would initialize the multiplication of the seed into a number too great to count, as great as the number of the stars. Therefore, we cannot separate the faith of Abram from the promise of the (S)seed. Abram not only believed the Lord’s Word, but he also believed in the promised Seed, Jesus Christ, the ultimate fulfillment of the promise given to Abraham. Of course, there was a near fulfillment in the person of Isaac, and the multiplication of Israel. However, this is not the climactic fulfillment that Jesus Christ was. This will do for a basic understanding of the passage in its original context.

We need to raise the problem of Paul and James in its acutest sense so that we can get a feel for the issues involved. Paul and James seem to contradict each other right at this point. Paul quotes Genesis 15:6 in order to prove that justification is by faith and not by works of any kind (the relevant passage here is Romans 4:1-8).  James quotes Genesis 15:6 in order to say that “a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.” As many people have noted (somewhat gleefully, I might add), the phrase “by faith alone” technically appears only in here in James 2, and that to be denied! What are we to make of this?

The road that Shepherd takes us on is the Arminian interpretation of imputation with regard to Genesis 15:6, which is that it is faith itself that is reckoned to take the place of righteousness (see Way of Righteousness, p. 30). This is  what Shepherd says: “What is credited or imputed to Abraham? The answer is his faith. The faith he had was reckoned to his account as righteousness. Faith and the obedience flowing from faith are of a piece with one another and together they constitute the righteousness of Abraham” (emphasis original). Notice here that it is not Christ’s righteousness that is here imputed, according to Shepherd, but rather the believer’s own faith plus the obedience that comes from faith. This misunderstands the nature of faith. Faith is not a thing in itself. It has no substance that could stand in for righteousness. Instead, we could call the expression a metonymy of the adjunct. Faith is an instrument that lays hold of Christ. Faith is an adjunct, or it lays hold of, Christ’s righteousness. The only reason faith can be said to be imputed is that faith lays hold of what is technically imputed: Christ’s righteousness. So faith’s instrumental character is here put to the fore when it is said to be counted for (or towards) righteousness.

Now, let it be known here that Shepherd and I agree on one point at least: justifying faith always results in obedience. We can both say that. Where we disagree is on the place of that righteousness within the structure of justification. He argues most definitely that the obedience of faith lies within the structure of justification. I argue most vociferously that it lies outside the structure of justification. How is that shown from James?

The justification by works of which James speaks is Abraham’s offering of his son Isaac in Genesis 22, NOT Abram’s belief as recorded in Genesis 15:6. The way James quotes Genesis 15:6 is as fulfillment of promise. The fulfillment language (καὶ ἐπληρώθη γραφὴ) indicates that Genesis 22 is what we would expect from Genesis 15:6. Faith results in obedience. This is NOT saying that obedience (even Spirit-filled obedience) is part of the structure of salvific justification. When one combines this analysis with what I said previously, arguing that “justify” in James refers NOT to salvific justification, but to demonstration of true faith, then all becomes clear. When James in verse 24 says that a man is not justified by faith alone, he is saying that a man is not justified demonstrably (shown to be unhypocritical, shown to have a true faith, shown to be a true child of the King) by faith alone. His works prove that he is genuine.

The only way to get around this is to argue that Paul does not deny all works when it comes to salvific justification. This cannot be done. It would make no sense whatsoever for Paul to say that unbelieving works cannot be counted as part of justification. That is rather obvious, isn’t it? In Romans 3, Paul has been concerned to prove that all alike are under sin. Every mouth must be stopped, and the whole world must become guilty (3:19). Therefore, the law here is concerned about morality, obedience to God. It is in that context that “deeds of the law” first makes its appearance in the passage about justification (3:20). Deeds of the law here cannot possibly refer exclusively or even primarily to those works that separate Jew from Gentile. Rather it has to refer to works that might give someone a ground upon which to boast before God.

Then, in verses 27-31, Paul proves his point by saying that since the law was the primary possession of the Jews, if justification were by these deeds of the law, then Gentiles would not be able to be justified ever. N.T. Wright makes a huge deal about verse 29 and the little word “or” that starts this verse. However, the verse does not say what he thinks it says. The sweep of the passage has to do with obedience to the whole law, and how all have fallen short. But the law as a whole has been specially revealed to the Jews. So, it is not just part of law-keeping that is excluded from Paul’s structure of justification. Rather, all law-keeping is excluded. There can be no ground of boasting. See Simon Gathercole’s outstanding treatment of this theme in Romans 1-5. Boasting would still be possible if any works of any kind (obedient or non-obedient) could form part of the structure of justification. They form the necessary result of justification and sanctification, and therefore cannot be separated from saving faith. But they are distinct from saving faith.

One of the main problems here is that all too often “living” has been equated with “obedient.” Those who disagree with me will undoubtedly point to James again and say “well, living is equated with obedient there.” No one is saying that we are justified (even in a Pauline sense!) by a dead faith. But the living aspect of faith with regard to justification is not obedience but the fact that it truly grasps hold of Christ. The living aspect of faith with regard to sanctification is that it will really result in good works. The second aspect of the aliveness of faith is the necessary result of the first aspect of the aliveness of faith. They are inseparable, yet distinct. The first aspect of the aliveness of faith is the sole province of the realm of justification. The second aspect is solely within sanctification. These things must be kept distinct, or all sorts of problems will result.

A Response to Dr. Clark

Many thanks to Dr. Clark for taking the time to respond to me. There are some very helpful clarifications there of what he was trying to accomplish in writing his book. I am still left with a few questions that I would like to lay out there.

1. I agree that there is very little substantive difference between Calvin’s duplex gratia and Olevian’s duplex beneficium. This is not all that surprising, since, as Dr. Clark notes in his book, Olevian was Calvin’s student.

2. What is Dr. Clark’s definition of “substantive interaction?” He makes the claim that Garcia did not substantively interact with Cornelis Venema’s thesis. At the very end of page 11, and going through page 14, Garcia at least interacts with Venema’s thesis. The question is: does this qualify as “substantive?” Added to these pages, the footnote on page 34 may be added, which clarifies for us the relationship of Venema’s thesis to Garcia’s thesis. Given the crowded nature of theses on Calvin, my impression was that Garcia gave as much time to Venema as to anyone else. Not even Lillback or Armstrong receive more attention than Venema. Garcia was generally favorable to Venema’s thesis, while allowing that further development of various aspects of Venema’s thesis was possible.

3. I do not think that my question concerning union with Christ, justification, and sanctification is anachronistic. I think it genuinely is something that Calvin was dealing with. And in saying this, my motivation is to ask what Calvin believed, not to try to find some antecedent for my favorite theologians. Instead, I am asking the question in this way: is Gaffin correctly understanding Calvin? Is Garcia correctly understanding Calvin?

4. I am not so sure that it is a good idea to separate historical inquiry from systematic theology. We can distinguish them. However, compartmentalization of the two is not healthy, in my mind. This is the field of my thesis, by the way. The separation of the two enterprizes is not something that the Reformers would have done. They dance happily among the various theological disciplines (which only we, in our post-Enlightenment state, have separated) with almost no awareness that they have crossed the boundaries of disciplines. They engaged in historical theology in order to prove their systematic theses. Their systematic theses were historically conditioned. Both were grounded in exegesis and used in polemics against Rome, the Anabaptists, the Lutherans, and later on, the Socinians. All of this had profound practical ramifications for the Christian life. Why is it a good thing to cordon off historical theology from systematic theology? I know that this is how historical theology is done today. But should it be done this way?

5. What places in Calvin support the claim that union is an a posteriori explanation of how one comes to faith in Christ? My original question was whether justification and sanctification can be considered temporally distinct in view of the simul in Calvin’s Romans commentary. I do not feel that this question has been answered.

6. I would agree that the structure and doctrine of justification itself in the Reformed world of the 16th and 17th centuries is precisely the same as the Lutherans. It is in this sense that we can speak of a pan-Protestant doctrine of justification. However, it seems to me that the relationship of justification to other doctrines (like covenant and union with Christ) is where there are differences between the Reformed and the Lutherans. Would Dr. Clark agree with this assessment?

7. Why did Calvin treat sanctification before justification?

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